Review: Hornby Class 50

Every modeller no doubt has a ‘wish list’ of locos he or she wants to buy. Usually they are very long wish lists and of course I am no different. Every model I have reviewed thus far had previously featured on my list of desirables. Today, however, something different… Something of which I’m sure every other modeller has done too… The Impulse Purchase!


Let’s see if it’s any good…


50 Diesel-Electric Class 50‘s (yes, clever isn’t it) were built in Newton-le-Willows by English Electric in 1967 and initially were earmarked to work the then non-electrified portion of the West Coast Mainline. They produce 2,700bhp and are capable of a top speed of 100mph.

By Phil Richards from London, UK [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Eventually they were superseded by Class 87’s when the electrification of this route was fully completed in 1974. BR then moved the Class 50’s to work routes predominantly out of London Paddington on the Great Western Mainline towards Bristol and Penzance. It was during this period BR named the fleet of Class 50’s after First and Second World War Navy Vessels.

Due to ever increasing reliability problems blamed on an over complicated design, the fleet was overhauled between 1979-1984 in Doncaster. The air intake system was modified and redundant features removed such as slow speed control and rheostatic braking.

By Matthew Black from London, UK (DSCF0036Uploaded by oxyman) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By this time Inter City 125 units had replaced the Class 50’s on The Great Western Main Line and they now found work on routes on The West of England Line from Waterloo towards Exeter, as well as express services from Paddington to Oxford. This service fell under the Network SouthEast umbrella during sectorisation in the mid 80’s and a number of Class 50’s were reliveried to reflect this.

In 1987 a few of the locomotives in the fleet were withdrawn. At the same time an attempt was made to revive the fortunes of the Class 50’s by experimenting with freight haulage. This ultimately was doomed to failure due to the anti-slip slow speed functions being removed during the overhaul. The test was concluded to be unsuccessful and come the 1990’s the 50’s were now exclusively working the West of England Line. The stop-start single track nature of this route meant dwindling reliability of the fleet was becoming a problem for BR. In 1992 they were replaced with Class 159 DMU’s, and whilst some stayed in service for another 2 years operating charter railtours, the Class 50’s were finally withdrawn in 1994.

By Ed Webster (South Devon RailwayUploaded by Oxyman) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Popular with enthusiasts, 18 of the class have been preserved up and down the country, including this model’s real life counterpart Superb. (Currently being restored at the South Devon Railway).

Model Options

Hornby run the monopoly on Class 50’s and make, or rather made, a few flavours: BR Blue, BR Blue Large Logo & Yellow Cab, and the one I’ve picked up, Network SouthEast. (Probably my all time favourite livery). Variants available pristine or weathered, of which mine is the later. They also made a limited edition run of RailFreight Sector versions and I’ve also seen some in Civil Engineers ‘Dutch’ Grey/Yellow (fitted with sound).

You may also stumble upon a few less well detailed Lima examples from days gone by, also in similar liveries.


The Class 50’s near exclusive diet would have been rakes of MkI/II coaching stock in either BR Blue/Grey or NSE Blue, White & Red. Fairly formation limiting if you’re being prototypical, yes, but this is definitely a popular and distinctive era to be modelling. BR would have also ‘borrowed’ locos from itself, so it’s feasible to have seen an NSE branded loco operating ‘out of region’ with Blue/Grey coaches from time to time. Same principle goes for the coaches, so seeing InterCity Swallow coaches in a rake was not uncommon.

If you want to be different, or you’ve managed to get your hands on the limited edition Railfreight edition, then some Class 50’s operated China Clay trains in the Plymouth region during their short lived experiment as freight locos in the late 80’s.


The loco comes in the standard Hornby yellow and red windowed box and seems pretty ordinary. By default the box also comes with a printed graphic of the loco – something of which I find utterly pointless when they’ve also supplied a window – but this isn’t anything ground-breaking. It’s inside that things start to deviate…


On first examination it seems we have a bog standard polystyrene block with vacuum formed cover…


…On closer inspection however there are two plastic clips that when removed…


…allow the foam block to separate revealing the loco.

I’ve only ever seen a handful of locos that feature this type of Hornby packaging on review videos. It seems to have been a stop gap between the old single form polystyrene pack of old and the newer Bachmann style ‘ice block.’ I’m not really sure how I feel about this style of packaging. The loco certainly feels and looks more secure whilst it’s packed away, but the unboxing and reboxing process always seems very fiddly, clunky and overly complicated. I always think the two polystyrene halves will separate whilst I’m arranging the plastic clips. It’s probably fair to say that the newer ‘ice block’ style inserts are definitely superior and it’s a good thing Hornby moved away from this slightly odd idea. Credit for trying to innovate though.

Score: 6/10


  • Hornby ‘Super Detail’ range.
  • NEM Pockets for your choice of coupler (Slim line tension locks provided and weathered to blend into the paintwork).
  • DCC Ready (but not fitted).
  • ‘Fake’ chain link coupler for affect.
  • Openable cab doors.
  • Sprung plastic buffers.
  • Spinning Fan
  • 8 (of 10) wheel pickups.
  • 4 (of 6) axle drive motor.
  • Directional lighting – 1 high intensity white and 2 domino style yellow markers in the forward direction, two red tail lights at rear.
  • Accessory bag? – I’m not actually sure about this as any additional vacuum pipes etc seem to have already been fitted.


Maybe an etched name plate for a perfect 10, or an isolator switch for the tail lights? Not going to complain though, excellent features.

Score: 9/10

Detail & Finish

This is without a doubt the most detailed model I own. Nothing comes close.


Starting at the ends: you’ve got numerous raised handrails – all individually painted. Lamp hooks and multiple working cables that sit just nicely proud of the cab face. On the buffer beam coloured cabling and pipes stand out against the grey weathered footplate and ladders. There’s even an authentic hook and chain coupler. The windscreen wipers are separate parts and the windscreen itself is grubby and weathered to mimic the wiper movements. The cab is finished off with a neat application of the NSE loco sitting between the lights and horns.


Moving down the side of the loco and the detail doesn’t stop: The handrails are again individually painted and recessed. Rivets highlight and frame the engine bay vents and there are fuel caps and hatches in the right places. The loco running number 50 002 is applied in a suitable font size along with the iconic NSE type face and West of England logo. The name plate, ‘Superb‘ is a transfer. Nowerdays you might be lucky enough to get an etched plate (like the Class 67 for example) but when this model was released this was not the norm so I can certainly live without it.


The weathering is strong, but predominantly focused on the underframe and lower sides. It adds the feel that the loco is heavily used but not under-loved or about to go to scrap like a few factory weathering jobs I’ve seen. The engine grill recesses haven’t received such a heavy coat of grime indicating either advanced painting techniques have been applied or the frame is made of two separate pieces. Either way the detail it adds is effective.


Some people have complained that the yellow warning panels are too dark and that the red stripe isn’t the right height, but I still think this is a superb (no pun intended) model. My only gripe, and it really is a small one, is that for a weathered model the roof is rather too pristine for my liking. I would like to have seen a bit of grime around the engine fan or exhaust vent.

Score: 10/10

Running & Performance

Credit where credit’s due: the motor in this Class 50 is a quality mechanism. The loco is also fairly heavy and both these factors add up to smooth and quiet running at higher speeds. The weight provides excellent tractive effort and Superb deals with uphill gradients as though they weren’t there and doesn’t run away on downhill stretches either

Drop the power down and the Class 50 produces a low rumble bark, but a bark that means business. This is one of the best slow speed performers on DC power I’ve seen from Hornby. The extra 2 powered axles make it even better than their Class 67. As expected on DC power you may lose the lights on extreme slow speed, but bare in mind these locos had their crawler gears removed in real life so the scale speed achieved is above and beyond reality.


So a perfect score for performance? Well I’m afraid not. All that extra detail on the buffer beam gets in the way of the NEM coupler especially when attached to trailing coaches. The result: frequent derailed coaches on curves.

All is not lost though. The problem is completely solved by forcing the couplers to link ‘incorrectly’ as above. This then forces the whole mechanism to sit more centrally whilst traversing curves. Now, I’m not sure how much of the buffer beam gubbins came factory fitted as I bought this model second hand, perhaps someone could inform me… It looks fairly professionally fitted so I’d hazard a guess in saying that it did roll out the factory as seen above. In which case, naughty Hornby, but I shall give you the benefit of the doubt this time…

Score: 9/10


Even though I bought this loco 2nd hand you may be a bit shocked at the price: It cost me £50. Yes, you did read that right. £50. I’ve been asking myself ever since, was there supposed to be something wrong with it? Did the shop mislabel the price? Did they know this edition is fairly hard to get hold of? Because that’s the bargain of the century! Certainly an impulse worth acting on. Sure the box is a bit tatty, but the model itself was immaculate. Nothing broken. Wheels looking nearly new too. I do wonder if the previous owner had trouble with the coupling and couldn’t figure out how to get it to run effectively as I have. Either way I’ll be honest now: You’re not going to find it out there for that price again…

The recommended retail price for this model according to Hattons was £90. Even that’s excellent value before I go further and tell you that Hattons themselves were selling it new for £75! – I’m still missing something right?! Why was it so cheap? – Sadly though it’s long out of stock. (Other wise I think I would have bought another…).

The bad news is I can’t find Superb anywhere online. The good news is that there are some Network SouthEast variants knocking around on eBay around the £85 mark which I still think is a fair price. If you want a factory fresh Class 50 then there are a few BR Blue (large logo) versions in the ether for around £100, again still good for what you get. Hornby themselves have announced another production run of Class 50’s with at least a BR Blue (large logo) version of Vanguard in the pipeline. Their RRP for this is a rather heavy £147.99. That’s perhaps over what I’d want to pay and in light of that I’ll have to drop the score a touch, maybe Hornby figured out they were undercharging! Either way there are still bargains to be had, so shop around and prowl eBay, if you pick up one of these new or nearly new for under £100 you’ll be laughing.

Score: 9/10


Another top notch model from Hornby. They can do it when they want to. Just a few minor alteration and not setting a mad price and you’re not far from a perfect score. Hornby, listen to me carefully. Take the motor, and put it in every model you make.


And you, reader, also listen carefully. Buy one. Now.

Overall Score: 8.6/10

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